Caracas to Los Roques
25. May: At dawn we finally arrive at La Bandera, it is a large bus station and a taxi driver approaches us to drive us to Caracas' Maiquetña airport. I think it is a really good deal for 10'000 Bs. It is an amazingly old battered car, I think this one set the record for the worst car I've ever driven in! We eventually arrive and I give the driver a 500Bs tip, which he really appreciates.
We don't have any tickets, but we'd like to go to Los Roques, so we start our search for a suitable flight. Rutaca Airlines does fly there, but they don't have any agent at the airport. The LTA flight is already full and we are advised to go to the 3rd airport which is next door since most Los Roques flights departed from there. (The other two airports were the International and National airports) We decide to walk and it is quite a hike there. It seems that they only have smaller private planes here. Immediately on entering we are approached by a man who wants to help us and behaves in an official manner. He is shadowed by another man and it seems that they are working in tandem. We try to go to the counter ourselves, but the guy rushes like mad as soon as he sees Annewien talking with the personnel.
We have a long hassle as to which plane to take, there is LTA and Transaven, and we would like to pay with traveler cheques. The flight at 6:30 has already left, we have to wait till 8:00. Transaven will accept Traveler Cheques and at last the whole deal is settled. he man wants a 'regalo' (gift), so we give him 500 Bs. He passes on the money immediately to his 'boss'.
The Transaven plane is one of the larger small aircraft we have flown. The flight to Gran Roque, the main island of Los Roques is uneventful. It is a small island and the airstrip is right next to the sea. It is a wonderful sight, with the brilliant turquoise water nearby and the bright sun. We need to pay the 'National Park fee' and then set off on foot to find a hotel. Los Roques is indeed a National Park and there are no boat trips there, only air. It's quite hot now, and we walking the streets with our heavy backpacks is not very pleasant. We ask a number of hotels and pensions and are shocked by the high prices of accommodation. They quote prices per person, not per room, which misleads us at first! Annewien would like to take a nice room near the end of our trip and I agree. In the end, we take an arrangement for 90$, which includes two days at Francisqui with boxed lunch and beach chairs, breakfast and dinner. It seems like an acceptable deal at the time, compared to the prices elsewhere, but we were to learn better the next day.
The houses in Gran Roque are extremely picturesque, being painted in beautiful bright colours. There is no traffic and life does seem to be laid back. Our hotel is no exception, being mostly painted in an off orange colour. Our room is quite pleasant as well. We then start off for our trip to Francisqui. Snorkeling equipment is included for both of us and we are taken to a speedboat with which we reach the island in no time. We are dropped off with a large cooler containing a number of soft drinks, cold lunch, some mangoes, two beach chairs and a sunshade. We agree on a time at which they should pick us up again by boat.
It is beautiful on Francisqui, it has a white sand beach and turquoise water. There are mostly Venezuelans on the beach, it seems that most of them are part of package tours. The Venezuelan women wear quite daring swimsuits and one of them is posing in the water while a man is taking her picture. We relax a bit, nibble at our lunch, and then grab our masks, fins and snorkels and set off to find a place to snorkel. It lies at the back of the island and soon I could see the dark patches in the water indicating a reef. We don our gear and plunge in.
The water is quite shallow at first, since we are in a small lagoon. We find the passage to the reef and then the sights become very interesting. There are very many colourful fish to be seen and also beautiful sea flora, sponges and some corals. We snorkel for quite a while, both enjoying it immensely! There is a group of Venezuelans who has entered the water almost the same time us, headed by a local guide, and they were splashing and yelling a lot. Sometime later we lost them, as we ventured further than they did. Suddenly I saw something large right beneath the water surface and I was slightly shocked and then delighted to see a huge barracuda motionless under the waves. It was a huge fish, surely 1.80 meters in length. It had a large mouth, which was open so you could see it's ferocious teeth inside. I informed Annewien and we both floated, watch the fish while it no doubt watched us. There was a slight current away from the barracuda and I had to actively swim to get closer to it. Somehow I didn't want to go too close, since we were far from help and I respected a creature of this size.
We would have liked to snorkel a bit further, but the fish blocked our way. Since it made so signs of swimming off, eventually we backed up and returned. Near the shore we were enveloped in huge swarms of tiny glassfish, so-called because of their nearly transparent bodies. They totally confused our senses with their mass of glittery moving bodies!
We returned to the stop where our beach chairs were and settled for the rest of our lunch and relaxed. Sometime later, we decided to take a second snorkel and set off to the place we had seen the barracuda. It was nowhere to be seen. There were so many other fish though, Parrotfish, Butterfly fish, Surgeonfish, Goatfish, the list seemed endless. We also saw a stingray! This was world-class snorkeling!
Eventually we returned to our spot on the beach, packed and waited for the boat to take us back to Gran Roque. There, we returned to our hotel and then decided to take a look at the 'Faro Holandesa', the Dutch Lighthouse, which was actually a ruin, before dinner. It was a pleasant evening walk to the hilltop with the lighthouse. The view over Gran Roque and the sea was marvelous and we found a spot to sit down and watch the sunset. It was a sensational sunset, with all seemingly shades of the spectrum in the sky. A short distance away, there were tow young Venezuelan kids rapping, one simulating a drum-box with his voice and the other rapping in Spanish. What an atmosphere!
When the sun had nearly set, we returned to our hotel for dinner. The hotel was apparently run by a guy fellow and his mother, the mother cooked dinner for us and it was absolutely delicious, with soup, main course, and salad. We decided to get up early the next morning so we could take some pictures of the houses and the island. We'd then planned to visit another one of the islands.